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4 Encouraging Truths for Christians with Mental Illness

SOURCE:  Lieryn Barnett

The apostle Paul speaks of a thorn in his side that he pleaded with God three times to remove (2 Cor. 12:7–10). Biblical scholars aren’t sure exactly what Paul’s thorn was, but I can tell you mine: bipolar disorder. I was diagnosed as an adolescent and have pleaded with God more than thrice to remove this from me.

It took me longer than Paul to hear God telling me that His grace is sufficient.

Mental illness can still be a highly stigmatized topic in the church. For those who do not have such struggles, suicidal ideations and the extreme despair that come with clinical depression can be difficult to understand. Although many Christians know the trial of occasional anxiety or depressed feelings, people with a diagnosed mental illness face unique challenges.

Charles Spurgeon once said, “The mind can descend far lower than the body, for in it there are bottomless pits. The flesh can bear only a certain number of wounds and no more, but the soul can bleed in ten thousand ways, and die over and over again each hour.” Mental illness is not a new phenomenon.

And the same biblical truths that have encouraged Christians for centuries can encourage those who suffer with mental illness today. Though we may continue to struggle daily in the “bottomless pit” of the mind, we can cling to four encouragements.

1. You Are Not Alone

God’s people have suffered—mentally, emotionally, and physically—since the fall. Even Christ himself cried out in despair on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46), echoing a psalm of lament (Ps. 22:1). When we suffer, we are not alone.

What’s more, mental illness is probably more common than you know. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 1 in 5 American adults lives with a mental illness. The World Health Organization says 1 in 4 people worldwide will experience mental-health issues.

You are almost certainly not the only one in your congregation dealing with issues arising from mental illness. Speaking openly about your mental-health issues will allow others to share their own struggles and will enable you to care for one another.

2. It’s Not Your Fault

Though mental illness is a result of the fall, my affliction—like that of the man born blind (John 9:3)—isn’t punishment for my sins or the sins of my parents. Mental illness may not be my fault, but it can be my opportunity to speak truth about Christ’s love to others.

Of course, sin can exacerbate mental illness, or stir up depression or anxiety. Sin spreads the infection of the darkness, which is why it’s so important to have people point you to Christ. If we repent and turn our focus to Christ, we can allow the light—however dim it may appear—to seep in. “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you” (James 4:8) is a promise for good days and for dark ones, too.

3. God Sees You and Is with You

We have a personal Savior who experiences emotions. As you suffer the effects of mental illness, you can remember the nearness of Christ. He weeps with you, as he wept with Lazarus’s family (John 11:35). He knew the resurrecting work he was about to do, but he sobbed with anger anyway. Likewise, he knows how he is going to work in and through your life, and he is with you in the midst of it.

By grace, he sent the Holy Spirit, our comforter and counselor, to be with you, to help you. The Holy Spirit intercedes for you (Rom. 8:27). He cries out for you when you can’t form words, but only sounds of despair (Rom. 8:26).

Remain steadfast, therefore, for there is great hope: “The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (Ps. 34:18). We are all broken in our own ways, but Christ makes us whole. He lights up the darkest corners of my heart and mind (2 Cor. 4:6). He pulls me out of the deepest pit (Job 33:28Ps. 40:2; 103:4Lam. 3:55). And if he sees fit, he will use me to reach others (2 Cor. 4:7–10).

4. God’s Word Speaks to You

The Bible isn’t afraid to talk about mental and emotional anguish. Look at Job or the psalms of lament, which compose the largest category of psalms. These are songs of people crying out to God in despair:

  • “Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted” (Ps. 25:16).
  • “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation” (Ps. 42:5).
  • “For my soul is full of troubles, and my life draws near to Sheol” (Ps. 88:3).

Yet even most psalms of lament end positively, reminding their hearers of God’s faithfulness. Like God’s people throughout history, we often forget everything he has already done for us and the promises he continues to fulfill.

Keep these truths somewhere you can be reminded of them often. Share them with a close friend, family member, or accountability partner who can remind you when you forget or when you don’t have the energy or willpower to remind yourself. God’s Word speaks to you on even the hardest days.

My thorn may never leave my side, but I can rejoice in the greatness and sovereignty of my mighty God. This illness continues to remind me that God’s grace is sufficient for me. I pray that God would make known his strength in my weakness.

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You’ll Get Through This

SOURCE:  Max Lucado

She had a tremble to her, the inner tremble you could feel with just a hand on her shoulder. I saw her in a grocery store. Had not seen her in some months. I asked about her kids and husband, and when I did, her eyes watered, her chin quivered, and the story spilled out. He’d left her. After twenty years of marriage, three kids, and a dozen moves, gone. Traded her in for a younger model. She did her best to maintain her composure but couldn’t. The grocery store produce section became a sanctuary of sorts.

Right there between the tomatoes and the heads of lettuce, she wept. We prayed. Then I said, “You’ll get through this. It won’t be painless. It won’t be quick. But God will use this mess for good. In the meantime don’t be foolish or naive. But don’t despair either. With God’s help you will get through this.”

Audacious of me, right? How dare I say such words? Where did I get the nerve to speak such a promise into tragedy? In a pit, actually. A deep, dark pit. So steep, the boy could not climb out. Had he been able to, his brothers would have shoved him back down. They were the ones who had thrown him in.
So it came to pass, when Joseph had come to his brothers, that they stripped Joseph of his tunic, the tunic of many colors that was on him. Then they took him and cast him into a pit. And the pit was empty; there was no water in it. And they sat down to eat a meal. — Genesis 37:23-25

Twenty-two years later, when a famine had tamed their swagger and guilt had dampened their pride, they would confess,
We saw the anguish of his soul when he pleaded with us, and we would not hear. — Genesis 42:21

These are the great-grandsons of Abraham. The sons of Jacob. Couriers of God’s covenant to a galaxy of people. Tribes will bear their banners. The name of Jesus Christ will appear on their family tree. They are the Scriptures’ equivalent of royalty. Yet on this day they were the Bronze Age version of a dysfunctional family. They could have had their own reality TV show. In the shadow of a sycamore, in earshot of Joseph’s appeals, they chewed on venison and passed the wineskin. Cruel and oafish. Hearts as hard as the Canaanite desert. Lunch mattered more than their brother. They despised the boy.
They hated him and could not speak peaceably to him… they hated him even more… they hated him… his brothers envied him. — Genesis 37:4-5, Genesis 37:8, Genesis 37:11

Here’s why. Their father pampered Joseph like a prized calf. Jacob had two wives, Leah and Rachel, but one love, Rachel. When Rachel died, Jacob kept her memory alive by fawning over their first son. The brothers worked all day. Joseph played all day. They wore clothes from a secondhand store. Jacob gave Joseph a hand-stitched, multi-colored cloak with embroidered sleeves. They slept in the bunkhouse. He had a queen-sized bed in his own room. While they ran the family herd, Joseph, Daddy’s little darling, stayed home. Jacob treated the eleventh-born like a firstborn. The brothers spat at the sight of Joseph.

To say the family was in crisis would be like saying a grass hut might be unstable in a hurricane.

The brothers caught Joseph far from home, sixty miles away from Daddy’s protection, and went nuclear on him.
They stripped Joseph of his tunic… they took him and cast him into a pit. — Genesis 37:23–24 (emphasis mine)

Defiant verbs. They wanted not only to kill Joseph but also hide his body. This was a murderous cover-up from the get-go.
We shall say, ‘Some wild beast has devoured him’. — Genesis 37:20

Joseph didn’t see this assault coming. The attack caught him off guard.

So did yours. Joseph’s pit came in the form of a cistern. Maybe yours came in the form of a diagnosis, a foster home, or a traumatic injury. Joseph was thrown in a hole and despised. And you? Thrown in an unemployment line and forgotten. Thrown into a divorce and abandoned, into a bed and abused. The pit. A kind of death, waterless and austere. Some people never recover. Life is reduced to one quest: get out and never be hurt again. Not simply done. Pits have no easy exits.

Joseph’s story got worse before it got better. Abandonment led to enslavement, then entrapment, and finally imprisonment. He was sucker punched. Sold out. Mistreated. People made promises only to break them, offered gifts only to take them back. If hurt were a swampland, then Joseph was sentenced to a life of hard labor in the Everglades.

Yet he never gave up. Bitterness never staked its claim. Anger never metastasized into hatred. His heart never hardened; his resolve never vanished. He not only survived; he thrived. He ascended like a helium balloon. An Egyptian official promoted him to chief servant. The prison warden placed him over the inmates. And Pharaoh, the highest ruler on the planet, shoulder-tapped Joseph to serve as his prime minister. By the end of his life, Joseph was the second most powerful man of his generation. It is not hyperbole to state that he saved the world from starvation.

How? How did he flourish in the midst of tragedy? We don’t have to speculate. Some twenty years later the roles were reversed, Joseph as the strong one and his brothers the weak ones. They came to him in dread. They feared he would settle the score and throw them into a pit of his own making. But Joseph didn’t. And in his explanation we find his inspiration.
As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.— Genesis 50:20

In God’s hands, intended evil becomes eventual good.

Joseph tied himself to the pillar of this promise and held on for dear life. Nothing in his story glosses over the presence of evil. Quite the contrary. Bloodstains, tearstains are everywhere. Joseph’s heart was rubbed raw against the rocks of disloyalty and miscarried justice. Yet time and time again God redeemed the pain. The torn robe became a royal one. The pit became a palace. The broken family grew old together. The very acts intended to destroy God’s servant turned out to strengthen him.

“You meant evil against me,” Joseph told his brothers, using a Hebrew verb that traces its meaning to “weave” or “plait.”

“You wove evil,” he was saying, “but God rewove it together for good.”

God, the Master Weaver. He stretches the yarn and intertwines the colors, the ragged twine with the velvet strings, the pains with the pleasures. Nothing escapes his reach. Every king, despot, weather pattern, and molecule are at his command. He passes the shuttle back and forth across the generations, and as he does, a design emerges. Satan weaves; God reweaves.

He redeemed the story of Joseph. Can’t He redeem your story as well?

You’ll get through this. You fear you won’t. We all do. We fear that the depression will never lift, the yelling will never stop, the pain will never leave. Here in the pits, surrounded by steep walls and angry brothers, we wonder, Will this gray sky ever brighten? This load ever lighten? We feel stuck, trapped, locked in. Predestined for failure. Will we ever exit this pit?

Yes!

Out of the lions’ den for Daniel, the prison for Peter, the whale’s belly for Jonah, Goliath’s shadow for David, the storm for the disciples, disease for the lepers, doubt for Thomas, the grave for Lazarus, and the shackles for Paul. God gets us through stuff. Through the Red Sea onto dry ground (Exodus 14:22), through the wilderness (Deuteronomy 29:5), through the valley of the shadow of death (Psalm 23:4), and through the deep sea (Psalm 77:19).

Through is a favorite word of God’s:
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, Nor shall the flame scorch you. — Isaiah 43:2 (emphasis mine)

It won’t be painless. Have you wept your final tear or received your last round of chemotherapy? Not necessarily. Will your unhappy marriage become happy in a heartbeat? Not likely. Are you exempt from any trip to the cemetery? Does God guarantee the absence of struggle and the abundance of strength? Not in this life. But He does pledge to reweave your pain for a higher purpose.

It won’t be quick. Joseph was seventeen years old when his brothers abandoned him. He was at least thirty-seven when he saw them again. Another couple of years passed before he saw his father. Sometimes God takes His time: One hundred twenty years to prepare Noah for the flood, eighty years to prepare Moses for his work. God called young David to be king but returned him to the sheep pasture. He called Paul to be an apostle and then isolated him in Arabia for perhaps three years. Jesus was on the earth for three decades before He built anything more than a kitchen table. How long will God take with you? He may take His time. His history is redeemed not in minutes but in lifetimes.

But God will use your mess for good. We see a perfect mess; God sees a perfect chance to train, test, and teach the future prime minister. We see a prison; God sees a kiln. We see famine; God sees the relocation of His chosen lineage. We call it Egypt; God calls it protective custody, where the sons of Jacob can escape barbaric Canaan and multiply abundantly in peace. We see Satan’s tricks and ploys. God sees Satan tripped and foiled.

Let me be clear. You are a version of Joseph in your generation. You represent a challenge to Satan’s plan. You carry something of God within you, something noble and holy, something the world needs — wisdom, kindness, mercy, skill. If Satan can neutralize you, he can mute your influence.

The story of Joseph is in the Bible for this reason: to teach you to trust God to trump evil. What Satan intends for evil, God, the Master Weaver and Master Builder, redeems for good.

Joseph would be the first to tell you that life in the pit stinks. Yet for all its rottenness doesn’t the pit do this much? It forces you to look upward. Someone from up there must come down here and give you a hand. God did for Joseph. At the right time, in the right way, He will do the same for you.

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Excerpted from You’ll Get Through This by Max Lucado, copyright Max Lucado.

SUFFERING: WHY THIS?? WHY NOW?? WHY ME??

SOURCE:  Dr. Bill Bellican — taken from various personal notes, NIV Study Bible notes, and other commentaries

At times of unparalleled stress and suffering in our lives, these are questions we shout to God desiring, even demanding answers. And, these lead to other questions such as: Is God in control of what’s happening to and around me? Is God really all good? Am I really all that bad to deserve this? Is God just paying me back for what I have done? In addition to these seemingly unanswered questions, Satan complicates the situation seeking to alienate us from God and have it seem that God is alienated from us.

It is important for us to ask these questions of God and seek an understanding based on His Word. The story of Job deals with these very things. One can begin to see into this struggle in the heavens between God and the Enemy from God’s point of view and how His Divine purpose involving us is in the balance. We start to understand in our struggle that God works in these times to:

  1. strengthen our faith;
  2. teach us a lesson/truth we need to know;
  3. allow us to experience the consequences of our sin and the (loving) discipline He brings;
  4. work His testing and refinement in our lives;
  5. reveal His comfort/grace;
  6. accomplish His own sovereign/mysterious purposes. Finally, we must come to the place of accepting that God does not allow us to suffer for no reason. And even though the reason may be hidden in the mystery of his Divine purpose-never for us to know in this lifetime-we must trust in Him as the God who does only what is right.

Prayerfully consider the following selections in Job. Meditate on them and dialogue with God about them as you grapple with your issues.

Chapter 1 – 2:10; Chapter 3; Chapter 6:4, 24; Chapter 7:7,11; Chapter 9:14-10:22; Chapter 12:13-25; Chapter 13:15-24; Chapter 16:6-9, 12, 16-21; Chapter 17:1, 7, 11; Chapter 19:6-20; Chapter 21:4-9, 13-16, 22-26; Chapter 23:1-17; Chapter 24:1, 12, 22-24; Chapter 28:12-15, 23-24, 28; Chapter 29:1-6; Chapter 30:15-31; Chapter 31:5-6; Chapters 38-42.

Some conclusions we can draw from God’s Word in Job include:

  1. There are matters going on in heaven with God that we know nothing about that affect our lives.
  2. Even the best effort at explaining the issues of life can be useless.
  3. God’s people do suffer. Bad things happen all the time to good people – so one cannot judge a person’s spirituality by his painful circumstances or successes.
  4. Even though God seems far away, perseverance in faith is a most noble virtue since God is Good and one can safely leave his life in His Hands.
  5. In the midst of suffering, we must not abandon God, but draw near to Him so out of the fellowship can come the comfort – without the explanation.
  6. Suffering may be intense, but it will ultimately end for the righteous, and God will bless abundantly.
  7. Job finally rested in nothing but faith in God’s Goodness and the hope of His redemption. God vindicated Job’s trust.
  8. When there are no rational, or even theological, explanations for disaster and pain, trust God.
  9. Suffering is directed by perfect Divine Wisdom.

Rejection: When the Unexpected Betrays

SOURCE:  Christine Caine, from Unexpected

Forgiving Freely

Loss is the uninvited door that extends us an unexpected invitation to unimaginable possibilities. —
 

Craig D. Jonesborough

I once had a dear friend whom I loved wholeheartedly and with whom I shared so many fun times. We had endless heart-to-heart talks about God, ministry, life, family, fashion, movies, books, food, and of course, coffee. We shared an incredibly strong bond. We could talk about the most serious issues on earth one moment and then be laughing hysterically the next. She was one of those people with whom I didn’t have to second-guess my words or filter my responses. There was simply an ease between us. And we had just enough differences to keep our friendship interesting, engaging, and evolving. She was one of the people I could call for anything, a true BFF.

Until the day she just wasn’t.

She cut me off. No warning. No conversation. No explanation.

I felt… Bewildered. Confused. Shocked. I tried to make sense of it all, but no matter how many memories and conversations I relived, it still didn’t make sense. I had let her into my inner world, into my heart. I had let her into the space where she had the power to wreck my heart, and she did. I had trusted her, bared my soul, risked being seen by her, and she had rejected me. Perhaps there is no greater pain between friends than the pain of being seen and then unexpectedly rejected.

When she cut me off, I felt so lost about what to do, what to say, and how to respond — just like a middle school girl. I felt as though I had been knocked off my feet, dumped on the floor, and left gasping for air, and I needed God to help me catch my next breath. I needed him to help me process the hurt and wrap my mind around what seemed incomprehensible. How could she do this? She was my friend. I loved her and had shared so much of my life with her. We both loved Jesus and wanted to see His Kingdom flourish. How was this possible?

Rejection was the last thing I expected from someone I had trusted the most. I felt like King David when he penned gut-wrenching words about his own dear friend:

If an enemy were insulting me, I could endure it;

if a foe were rising against me, I could hide.

But it is you, a man like myself, my companion, my close friend,

with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship at the house of God,

as we walked about among the worshipers.

— Psalm 55:12-14

Like David, I felt gutted to be on the receiving end of a severed relationship when I wasn’t even sure why it ended. And all of it triggered the rejection of my past. That was the Achilles’ heel of my soul — all the rejection and abandonment I had experienced as a child, all the shame. My knee-jerk response was to shut down and pull back. To draw a line in the sand and never let anyone cross it again. To erect a wall around my heart and never again let anyone in.

But I knew better and I wanted to do better. I knew the consequences of hardening my heart, and I didn’t want to grow bitter and resentful, judgmental and critical. I didn’t want to get stuck in emotional quicksand.

I knew I needed to start with forgiving. After all, that is what I spend my life teaching others to do. But it is never as easy as it sounds, especially when our heart is broken. I knew I couldn’t let what happened to me become what I believed about myself. Just because someone hurt me didn’t mean I was unworthy, unlovable, or unkind. It didn’t mean I was worth less or worthless. It didn’t mean I was not a good friend or capable of being a good friend. But that’s how I felt — no matter how many times I tried to refute all the lies bombarding my mind. If I were a good friend to her, she wouldn’t have cut me off without an explanation. If I were a good friend to her, she would hear me out and make time for me. If I were a good friend to her…

But I had been a good friend to her. I had done the best I knew. And regardless of what I might have done wrong, I truly loved her and wanted the best for her. I wanted our friendship to last. I never imagined it ending — especially not like this.

If I were going to move beyond this pain and not get stuck in this one dark moment of my life, I knew I had to quit obsessing over past events and fall into the arms of God, letting him help me sort through all my emotions — and get control of my runaway-train thoughts.1

When I reached out to my friend to talk and find a resolve, it was to no avail. She didn’t want to talk it through with me. She had simply shut down, and shut me out.

Invite Jesus In

None of us starts out in life planning to be hurt — or to hurt others — but it happens. People fail us — and we fail people — repeatedly. It happens in our childhood and continues all the way through our adulthood. Our lives are intertwined with everyone around us — just as God designed — but we are all a part of a flawed humanity. None of us ever arrives, so it stands to reason that every time we open our hearts to one another, every time we’re thrown together into each other’s worlds, we will, quite possibly, hurt one another.

Whether it occurs in our dating, marriage, work, or friendships, it is going to happen. I’ve heard so many stories from women who started out their careers full of enthusiasm and talent only to be devastated by life-altering criticism that postponed or derailed their success. They didn’t know how not to believe everything someone in a position of authority said and how not to let it define who they were. So they minimized their talent and settled for a less fulfilling position. They believed the lies that they were not smart enough, not gifted enough, not savvy enough.

I’ve listened to stories from women who married the love of their life only to have the marriage eventually crumble. Because of all the hurtful words thrown at them, they believed they were a failure and that they were unworthy of a loving relationship.

Just because we experience failure, it doesn’t make us a failure — but that’s hard to process when we don’t know how.

My own aunt was married for twenty-five years when she learned her best friend had been having an affair with her husband for eighteen of those years. She was devastated, and it was so hard watching her internalize lies about herself because of their deceitful actions. She agonized over not understanding how she never knew. She questioned everything she’d ever done or said that might have made both of them betray her. She obsessed over what she could have done differently, believing she was the one who had failed.

We have all been through deeply painful situations where words or actions significantly wounded us and threatened to derail us — whether it was from a friend, a spouse, a colleague, or a mentor. When we were…

  • Blindsided by a divorce
  • Upstaged by a coworker
  • Shamed publicly by a leader
  • Financially ruined by a business partner
  • Judged by a family member
  • Rejected by a lifelong friend
  • Betrayed by a ministry partner

We’ve never forgotten those times when we lost our peace, joy, and hope and sometimes our vision, passion, and purpose.

Unexpected emotional wounding is so deeply painful because it is… unexpected. It hits when our defenses are down and our trust levels are up. How critical then to understand that even when people leave us and hurt us, God never leaves us nor forsakes us.2 He understands what it feels like to be kicked in the gut, to have the wind knocked out of us — and He cares. He promises to be there for us and to help us.

If your heart is broken,” writes the psalmist, “you’ll find God right there; if you’re kicked in the gut, He’ll help you catch your breath. — Psalm 34:18 MSG

Even when people are unfaithful, God is always faithful.

Every time we’re deeply hurt, we’re faced with the opportunity to let that wound define us — for a season or for the rest of our lives. Maybe we’ve altered our course, scaled back our dreams, or given up on them all together. Maybe we’ve believed something about ourselves — consciously or subconsciously — that may not be true.

Reframe Your Question

I remember when the initial shock of my friend hurting me began to subside, and I slowly realized that I had to work through all my hurt without her. It was a defining moment in my healing, a moment of reckoning, of turning my attention from how deeply hurt I felt to how I could get better. But I really wasn’t sure I could do it alone — and be as healthy as I wanted to be — and so I decided to get help.

When we get a hit out of nowhere that threatens to knock us out, we need wise Christian counsel.

I’m a big believer in going to Jesus and to safe people who can help us process unexpected wounds. Because of my past wounds — like those from my childhood — I knew I was vulnerable in this area, so I reached out to a Christian counselor who could help me. I knew that ultimately Jesus is the only one who can truly heal our deepest hurts, but I also knew the value of having someone help me sort out my perspectives and my heart.

Unexpected hurts often reveal unexpected pain, and, as strange as it may sound, I wanted to take advantage of this opportunity to be healed of anything lurking under the surface of which I might not have been aware. I’ve been on this journey long enough now to know that when I feel a certain type of heart pain, it is an invitation from God for a deeper healing He wants to do in me. I have been so broken, wounded, and fragmented that I am a constant work in progress. I’ve learned to lean into this kind of pain when it happens — even though I know that doing so will hurt — because I so desperately desire the healing I know is on the other side.

I know that God sometimes uses relational fractures to show us where we are out of alignment with Him; maybe our affections are misplaced. It’s so easy to have unrealistic expectations of others — to inadvertently want them to love us as only God can — and to set our friendships up for failure.

We can’t expect people to be Jesus to us. It’s too unfair.

Jesus is the only true friend who can love us unconditionally and really stick closer than a brother.3

So, it was then, with a counselor’s help, that I slowly quit asking, Why, God, why? — because honestly, sometimes we may never know, and because that question usually just spirals us into a dark hole that leads nowhere. Instead, I started asking, Jesus, where are You in this? What can You show me through this? What can I learn from this?

It wasn’t the first time I’d been unexpectedly hurt, so I knew there was always something God wanted to do in me. He didn’t cause the hurt — my friend did — but God is always eager to use our circumstances to bring more wholeness into our lives, if we will let Him. God is good; God does good; and God uses all things for my good.4 These are truths I believe with all my heart. So, as I invited Him in, I knew He would use this for my good somehow.

Reframing my questions changed my perspective. It turned my focus back toward Jesus — where real answers come from. It reconnected me to hope — which meant I was looking forward now and not backward at all the emotional wreckage in my wake. It also set my heart in a direction of letting Jesus mold me further into being the kind of friend I had always wanted.

Only Jesus could heal me completely, so I took the time to tell Jesus of the loss I felt — like part of my life was missing — and He walked me through the sorrow of how much all of this had hurt me. I grieved the loss of someone I had come to love dearly. I grieved the loss of not having to second-guess my words or filter my responses. I grieved the loss of having a friend who understood me implicitly and let me be myself. I missed all the time and space she filled in my life. I missed all the laughter we shared. I missed all the deep conversations we used to have. I missed the random texts and jokes and prayer requests. And I told Him all of this. I allowed myself to be in touch with how I truly felt by being honest with God and myself.

And as I did my part, God began to do what only He could do — heal my heart.

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1. Unashamed by Christine Caine, chapter 8, “He Healed My Mind,” pp. 133–47.
2. Deuteronomy 31:16; Hebrews 13:5.
3. Proverbs 18:24.
4. Romans 8:28.

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Excerpted from Unexpected by Christine Caine, copyright Christine Caine.

Not Even Cancer Can Separate You From God’s Love

SOURCE:  What Cancer Cannot Do, published by Zondervan

 

Leave it in God's hands, for He is in control.
Down to Our Hair

Two weeks from the day I had my first infusion of chemo, my hair fell out. I had been warned, of course. But secretly I cherished the hope that my thick locks would defy the statistics, clinging to my scalp despite the red stuff dripping into my veins.

A volunteer barber at the hospital had suggested that if I shampooed less often and used a wide-toothed comb, I would keep my hair. I tried both. But when I began shedding like an unkempt dog all over my pajamas, pillows, and bathroom floor, I recognized the inevitable. I called a friend from work who suggested clipping my hair back to two inches so that going bald would be less traumatic. She came to my hospital room and began buzzing.

The snappy do lasted about two days. One morning in the shower, I watched in horror as water washed off shampoo, and clumps of hair that gathered around my feet. When I looked in the mirror, all I saw were stray wisps and a shiny scalp. I was undeniably, irrefutably bald. And there wasn’t a thing I could do about it.

Samson woke up one morning minus his hair and his strength and all sense of control. Perhaps we feel a bit like that as well when we first confront our naked scalps. We can’t trust our bodies anymore, we can’t trust our strength. We can’t even trust hair to grow on our head.

But we can trust God.

Because no matter what happens to us, God, the creator and ruler of the universe, the one who made the great creatures of the deep and flung stars all over the heavens, is in control. He controls the tides of the oceans and the wind in the trees. He controls the tiny little birds that ride the colors of dawn.

We need not be afraid of what is happening to us because God is in control.

He is so in control that, as Luke 12:7 tells us, He counts the very hairs of our head. Imagine that!

Every hair that washes down the drain the morning you go bald has God’s number on it. Every wisp that straggles upward from your scalp after treatment ends has God’s number on it.

If God cares that much about the hair on your head, you can trust that He cares for you. And nothing — not even cancer — can separate you from His loving control.

* * *

Doubt not His grace because of thy tribulation, but believe that He loveth thee as much in seasons of trouble as in of happiness. ~ Charles Spurgeon

All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field. The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the Word of our God stands forever. — Isaiah 40:6, Isaiah 40:8

He watches us with fatherly care, keeping all creatures under His control, so that not one of the hairs on our heads (for they are numbered) nor even a little bird can fall to the ground without the will of our Father. ~ The Belgic Confession, Article 13

The art of living lies less in eliminating our troubles than in growing with them. ~ Bernard M. Baruch

I have held many things in my hands, and I have lost them all; but whatever I have placed in God’s hands, that I still possess.  ~ Martin Luther

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Excerpted with permission from What Cancer Cannot Do: Stories of Hope and Encouragement, copyright Zondervan.

Pressing Through the Pain

SOURCE:  Lysa Terkeurst

Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. — James 4:8 NKJV

Does it ever feel like the heartbreak in your life is trying to break you?

I understand. I really, really do. I’ve been in that place where the pain of heartbreak hits with such sudden and sharp force that it feels like it cuts through skin and bone. It’s the kind of pain that leaves us wondering if we’ll ever be able to function like a normal person again.

But God has been tenderly reminding me that pain itself is not the enemy.

Pain is the indicator that brokenness exists.

Pain is the reminder that the real Enemy is trying to take us out and bring us down by keeping us stuck in broken places. Pain is the gift that motivates us to fight with brave tenacity and fierce determination, knowing there’s healing on the other side.

And in the in-between? In that desperate place where we aren’t quite on the other side of it all yet, and our heart still feels quite raw? Pain is the invitation for God to move in and replace our faltering strength with His. I’m not writing that to throw out spiritual platitudes that sound good; I write it from the depth of a heart that knows it’s the only way. We must invite God into our pain to help us survive the desperate in-between.

The only other choice is to run from the pain by using some method of numbing. But numbing the pain never goes to the source of the real issue to make us healthier. It only silences our screaming need for help.

We think we are freeing ourselves from the pain when, in reality, what numbs us imprisons us.

If we avoid the hurt, the hurt creates a void in us.

It slowly kills the potential for our hearts to fully feel, fully connect, fully love again. It even steals the best in our relationship with God.

Pain is the sensation that indicates a transformation is needed. There is a weakness where new strength needs to enter in. And we must choose to pursue long-term strength rather than temporary relief.

So how do we get this new strength? How do we stop ourselves from chasing what will numb us when the deepest parts of us scream for some relief? How do we stop the piercing pain of this minute, this hour?

We invite God’s closeness.

For me, this means praying. No matter how vast our pit, prayer is big enough to fill us with the realization of His presence like nothing else. Our key verse (James 4:8) reminds us that when we draw near to God, He will draw near to us. When we invite Him close, He always accepts our invitation.

And on the days when my heart feels hurt and my words feel quite flat, I let Scripture guide my prayers — recording His Word in my journal, and then adding my own personal thoughts.

One of my favorites to turn to is Psalm 91. I would love to share this verse with you today, as an example for when you prayerfully invite God into your own pain.
Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. — Psalm 91:1

Prayer:

Lord, draw me close. Your Word promises when I draw close to You, You are there.

I want my drawing close to be a permanent dwelling place. At any moment when I feel weak and empty and alone, I pray that I won’t let those feelings drag me down into a pit of insecurity. But rather, I want those feelings to be triggers for me to immediately lift those burdensome feelings to You and trade them for the assurance of Your security.

I am not alone, because You are with me. I am not weak, because Your strength is infused in me. I am not empty, because I’m drinking daily from Your fullness. You are my dwelling place. And in You I have shelter from every stormy circumstance and harsh reality. I’m not pretending the hard things don’t exist, but I am rejoicing in the fact that Your covering protects me and prevents those hard things from affecting me like they used to.

You, the Most High, have the final say over me. You know me and love me intimately. And today I declare that I will trust You in the midst of my pain. You are my everyday dwelling place, my saving grace. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

And with that I close my prayer journal, feeling a lot less desperate and a lot more whole. I breathe the atmosphere of life His words bring. I picture Him standing at the door of my future, knocking. If I will let Him enter into the darkness of my hurt today, He will open wide the door to a much brighter tomorrow.

Dear Lord, in this moment I draw near to You and I invite Your closeness. Help me to experience Your presence today. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

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Excerpted from Embraced by Lysa TerKeurst

Adult Children: Praying for Your Prodigal

SOURCE:  Jodi Berndt from Praying the Scriptures for Your Adult Children

I will give them a heart to know Me, that I am the Lord. They will be My people, and I will be their God, for they will return to Me with all their heart. — Jeremiah 24:7

Lauren stared at the photo on her phone, barely comprehending what she saw. It was a picture of her son, William, lying in a hospital bed, his head wrapped in a bloody bandage. He had been assaulted in what he said was a random robbery, and Lauren wanted to believe him. Given what they knew about their son’s current lifestyle, she didn’t know what to think.

Lauren and her husband, Mike, had been lukewarm about William’s plan to move to Chicago when he graduated from college. They understood why a guy from a small town in Alabama would want to spread his wings, but his idea — to launch a neighborhood-based classified-ad service to sell things like used furniture, cars, and household goods — sounded iffy. William had majored in business, but he knew very little about technology and even less about Chicago’s diverse neighborhoods. But after a six-month job search closer to home turned up nothing, she and Mike had gotten William a plane ticket and wished him well. Their son was hardworking, creative, and intelligent, so who knew? Maybe he’d be one of the success stories.

And if not, well, what was the worst that could happen?

Lauren had run through a dozen worst-case scenarios in her mind — maybe the business would flop or William would get sick from the city dirt and noise and pollution — but nothing had prepared her for the sight of her son lying in some unknown hospital, more than six hundred miles away. She wished Mike would get home soon; she needed to talk. An orthopedic surgeon, he was usually at the hospital all day on Thursdays, and she hadn’t been able to reach him.

Lauren thought back over the past several months. William had burned through most of his start-up money, and then in an effort to recoup his losses, he had started gambling. His drinking, which Lauren and Mike had hoped would lessen once he got out of college, had gotten worse. Lauren didn’t know much about William’s friends and business associates, but the words from Proverbs 13:20 kept coming to mind:

Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm.

Apparently, William had been walking with some fairly serious fools.

When had that started to happen? Lauren didn’t know exactly. William had given his life to the Lord at age twelve, and as he grew, so had his faith. He had been a youth group leader in high school, and when the time came to go to college, he elected to live with a Christian roommate. Lauren and Mike were thrilled when William joined a campus Bible study; surely, the friends and the teaching he’d be exposed to there would help guard him against some of the secular philosophies he would encounter in the classroom.

But things hadn’t turned out that way. Parties, football games, and study sessions with his classmates filled William’s calendar, and he began to drift away from Bible study and other fellowship opportunities. It wasn’t as if some atheist had talked him out of his faith; rather, the shift had come gradually as William spent more time with unbelievers than with his Christian friends. And then, almost as if he was looking for an intellectual reason to account for his behavior, William began to question some of the most basic tenets of his faith. Salvation by grace seemed far too simplistic. And the resurrection? Nothing he learned in any of his science classes made that even a remote possibility; it seemed (as William told his parents during his junior year) to be a story designed to bring comfort and hope to people who would grasp at anything to keep their faith alive. Which was fine for them — just not for him.

Mike and Lauren hadn’t wanted to alienate their son by revealing the depth of their concern or by arguing against some of his claims. Instead, they welcomed William’s questions, pointing him toward authors like Josh McDowell, Lee Strobel, and C. S. Lewis, apologists whose work they thought might appeal to him on an intellectual level.

“But honestly,” Mike had said, after one of their conversations, “I don’t think he is looking for evidence to support Christianity. I think it’s a moral issue, masquerading as an intellectual one. I think he wants to find a worldview to support his quest for independence and self-sufficiency as he runs away from God, something that will justify his rebellion.”

Prayer Principle

Ask God to work in your prodigal’s mind and spirit, demolishing arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God. (2 Corinthians 10:5)

The kitchen door opened, snapping Lauren’s mind back to the present. It was Mike, home from the hospital where he had been making rounds. Lauren showed him the photo and filled him in on what little she knew.

“He says it’s nothing serious,” she said. “Some guys jumped him when he was walking home from work. He says they took his wallet…”

“Maybe they did,” Mike said, “but we aren’t sending him any more money.”

He picked up the phone and enlarged the photo. “It looks like a good bandage job at least. He’ll be okay.”

Lauren knew Mike wasn’t being callous or insensitive, and that he was hurting just as much as she was. He was just being practical. But for a mom, it wasn’t that easy.

“Mike, I want William to come home,” she said softly.

“I think he should,” Mike agreed, “but we can’t make him do anything. He’s literally living the life of the prodigal son — he got us to give him some money, and then he went away to a distant city and squandered it all in wild living. For all we know, he has been eating with pigs!”

Lauren knew the story Mike was talking about. It was a parable in Luke 15, one Jesus used to illustrate the heavenly Father’s love and the power of redemption. In that story, the son finally comes home, confessing his sins and giving up any claim he had on the family name. “I am no longer worthy to be called your son,” he says. “Make me like one of your hired men.” (Luke 15:19)

Lauren loved that parable — especially the part where the father sees the son in the distance and, throwing dignity to the wind, runs out to embrace his boy in a very public, very emotional reunion. It was perhaps the best illustration she knew of to show how God feels about us, and how utterly ecstatic He is when we acknowledge our own unworthiness and turn to him.

Missing from the story, though, was an account of the prodigal’s mother. Surely, she had longed to hear from her boy, to receive some word that he was at least alive. And certainly, when she heard the sound of his greeting, her heart would have leaped right along with her husband’s. Who knows? She might have even beaten him down the street.

Lauren knew the story wasn’t about a literal, historical family, one with a real mom and dad. But if it had been, Lauren knew one thing for sure: that mama would have been praying.

Prayer Principle

God knows what it’s like to grieve over a prodigal child — and to rejoice over his return.

Listening to Lauren and Mike, I was reminded of any number of similar accounts people shared with me as I worked on this book. Mothers and fathers told me about their kids’ faith; how they’d grown up in the church, attended Christian camps, or gone on mission trips; and read The Chronicles of Narnia at bedtime. These parents, like so many I interviewed, had done everything in their power to produce Christian kids — and sometimes, as one parent put it, “A plus B really did equal C.” But sometimes (a lot of times, actually), it didn’t.

I think my favorite comment came from a mom whose daughter has walked a path no parent would choose for a child. Looking at all of the bad decisions (and tragic consequences) the girl has experienced, and stacking those things up against verses like Genesis 50:20 (“You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good”), this sweet mama summed up her perspective like this: “I don’t know what God is doing in my daughter’s life, or why she does the things she does. All I can figure is that she is working on her testimony. And it’s shaping up to be a good one.”

For parents who’ve staked their trust in the Lord (and for those who believe, as author Max Lucado puts it, that “we see a perfect mess; God sees a perfect chance to train, test, and teach”1), the idea that our kids are still “working on their testimonies” is a lifeline to hope. And it’s not just their stories that are still being written; Lauren and Mike don’t know what the future holds for William, but they’d be the first to tell you that his experience has shaped their own spiritual journey in a powerful way.

“We’ve prayed more than ever before,” Lauren told me, “and we’ve learned to wait on God. It’s hard not to let fear and worry cloud the picture, but the more we look into the bright light of God’s love, the more those dark things are obliterated. This trouble has been a gateway for us to get to know God better; our prayer is that it will also be a gateway for William.”

Prayer Principle

The light of God’s love is what scatters the darkness. Tether your prayers to the brightness of His promises.

“We’ve learned that we are completely helpless,” Mike added. “We cannot change or control our kids’ lives; all we can do is trust in a God who has given us great and precious promises.”

Mike is right. We are helpless, at least insofar as it comes to dictating the way our adult children think and behave. Many of them are out of our reach, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

But they are not out of God’s — and He invites us to join Him in the work He is doing, through prayer. We are not helpless there; even when we have no idea how to pray, God has us covered. “The Spirit helps us in our weakness,” Paul writes in Romans 8:26.

We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.

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Max Lucado, You’ll Get through This: Hope and Help for Your Turbulent Times (Nashville: Nelson, 2013), 10.

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